Fight Not Over on Census Amendment That Would Require Question on Citizenship

The fight is not over in the Senate over Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter’s proposal to amend the 2010 Census forms to add a question on citizenship. In a demonstration of what the argument is really about, groups on all sides of the immigration debate are urging their constituencies to press senators on the measure.

The amendment, which Vitter defends as a way of fairly apportioning Congressional representation to states, has not been voted on yet and it’s not clear if it will be. It would be added to a budget bill for fiscal year 2010 for the departments of Commerce, Justice and some federal programs.

Vitter has been accused by Latino congressmen and pro-immigration advocates of trying to politicize the census and of not-so-subtly playing to the conservative base on the highly controversial issue of immigration. Whether that was his goal or not, it has clearly been achieved.

“Why is the open borders lobby so afraid of seeing this issue come to a vote? Why are they attempting to sweep this issue under the rug?” said the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform in a web posting where it asked supporters to press for a vote on the amendment.

“They don’t want the American people to know the extent that the illegal immigration problem affects our country. It would be one more thing that stands in the way of their push for a massive amnesty bill through Congress!”

“Don’t let fear and anti-immigrant sentiment win,” called Voto Latino, a group that advocates civic participation, in an email to supporters.

“If passed, the amendment will inject fear into an action required by the U.S. Constitution every ten years. The census provides a population count needed to determine the allocation of federal funds (for everything from schools and hospitals, to highways and public transportation) as well as political representation. Vitter’s amendment hurts already financially strapped local governments by leaving millions uncounted.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Baca, a Democrat from California, introduced a bill in the House to counter Vitter’s and ensure that “the Census count that occurs every ten years tabulates the total number of persons in each state, and eliminates any provisions in the census requiring information on citizenship or immigration status.”

“The census is the most important source of data about our nation’s population,” Baca said in a press release. “We must not jeopardize a timely or accurate count because of the whims of some who choose to play politics with this issue.”

If the Census followed Vitter’s proposal, Baca said, Latinos would end up being undercounted — which occurred in the 2000 count in some cities.

“My legislation can help to guarantee an accurate count in the upcoming Census, and protect our nation from costly and discriminatory tactics like the Vitter amendment, which risks disenfranchising millions of Latinos from participating and being accurately counted,” he said.

Talking to PoliticsDaily, Simon Rosenberg, of progressive think tank NDN, said Vitter’s initiative bring to mind the old question of whether slaves and others were to be counted as part of the U.S. population at different points in history.

“We essentially went to war over this question as a country,” Rosenberg told Patricia Murphy. “The Civil War was fought over how we treat slaves and whether they’re whole people or not. The country made a resolution around these questions, which is that everyone would be counted in the reapportionment. It is not something Congress can override through law. Congress does not have the ability to change this. They’d have to change the Constitution.”

NDN, the SEIU union, Hispanic organizations and others have joined to launch a website opposing the amendment, called Don’t Wreck the Census.

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